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6 Secrets To Unlocking Your Child's Talent (page 2)

6 Secrets To Unlocking Your Child

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Updated on Aug 7, 2013

Recognize that slow practice is productive practice. This technique is common to virtually every talent hotbed, from tennis to cello to math. The reason it works: When you go slow, you can sense and fix more errors, coaching yourself to build a better skill circuit. At Meadowmount, a classical-music school whose alumni include Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, the rule is, you should play slow enough that a passer-by can’t recognize the song. As one coach puts it, “It’s not how fast you do it. It’s how slow you can do it correctly.”

Praise effort, not natural ability. When we praise a child’s intelligence, we’re telling her that status is the name of the game, and she reacts by taking fewer risks. When we praise effort, however, kids become more inclined to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them—the essence of deep practice and learning. It’s no coincidence that talent hotbeds use effort-based language. Some Russian tennis players don’t say they “play” tennis; the word is "borot’sya"—to struggle.

Encourage mimicry. Copying is a neurological shortcut to skill. Vividly imagining yourself perfecting a skill is a great first step to actually doing it, whether you’re writing or dancing. Tim Gallwey, the author/tennis instructor, teaches beginner students to play a passable game in 20 minutes through mimicry—all without uttering a single word of instruction.

Stand back. The kind of deep practice that grows skill circuits can only come from within the kid, not from the parent, no matter how well-meaning. As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck puts it, all parental advice can be distilled into two essential points:

1) Pay attention to what your child stares at.

2) Praise them for their effort.

In other words, notice when they fall in love, and help them to use the energy of that love wisely. When you start thinking about talent as a process—when you see the power of certain forms of practice, when you look for inner passion, when you tune into the teaching signals you can send—life changes, Coyle says. Like most big changes, it shows itself in small ways. “For our family, it’s when our son has a tough new song on the piano, and my wife encourages him to try just the first bar, or just the first five notes over and over, doing it in baby steps until it starts to click. Or when our daughters are skiing, and they excitedly inform us that they fell a bunch of times, which must be a sign that they are getting better,” Coyle says. (A concept that works better with skiing than it will with learning to drive a car).

Teaching kids that talent is built, not born, allows them to look at failure in a completely new way. Failure is not a verdict—it’s a path forward. And mistakes are not something to be embarrassed about. They’re steps on the path to success. Without them, greatness is not possible.

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